As just a par 70, Atlanta Athletic Club certainly a beast

By Associated PressAugust 10, 2011, 11:02 pm

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Tiger Woods posed over his approach into the 18th green Wednesday morning as the ball descended toward the flag and the crowd began to murmur with anticipation.

Splash!

This was only his final practice round for the PGA Championship. Imagine facing this shot with a one-shot lead Sunday afternoon, not having Woods’ power, and it starts to make sense why David Toms laid up with a wedge 10 years ago.

Only it’s not just the closing hole at Atlanta Athletic Club.

In what ranks as most of the more difficult closing stretches in championship golf, the last four holes feature a pair of par 3s over water, including one that measures 260 yards on the scorecard. The shorter par 4 is only 476 yards, but is entirely uphill. The closing hole is 507 yards that bends to the left and has a lake in front of the green

“I don’t think there’s another stretch that I can remember that’s this difficult coming in,” Woods said. “You have two long par 4s going uphill, you’ve got a par 3 in which more guys will be hitting lumber, and obviously 18 being as tight as it for as long as it is, it’s a hell of a test coming in.

“If you play those four holes per day, those 16 holes even par, you’ll be picking up a ton of shots on the guys.”

It was difficult enough in 2001, and now they are a combined 85 yards longer.

They played a key part of the PGA Championship the last time it came to Atlanta Athletic Club. The 15th hole is where Toms made an ace with his 5-wood in the third round to take the lead. Of course, the hole was only 227 yards back then.

“First of all, 5-wood is not going to be enough club for me,” Toms said.

The 16th hole is where Phil Mickelson heard a fan shout out Sunday afternoon that his long birdie putt was slower than it looked. Mickelson ran it by some 8 feet and three-putted for bogey, a lost stroke that he never got back and finished second.

On the 18th hole, Toms had a 5-wood from the light rough to clear the water. Instead, he laid up with a wedge, hit another to 12 feet and make the putt to win his only major.

Ten years later, not much has changed as far as the test that awaits when the final major gets under way Thursday.

“We were talking at lunch, if you had to par the last four holes to win the PGA Championship, it’s going to be a tough road,” Toms said. “Those last four holes are very, very difficult now.”

That’s where most majors are decided, anyway.

Martin Kaymer thought the finishing stretch at the PGA Championship was among the toughest he had ever seen, with a pair of par 4s at least 500 yards, and a 223-yard par 3 for the 17th.

Then he came to Atlanta Athletic Club.

“Whistling Straits, the last four holes, I think they played a little bit easier because there was no water involved,” Kaymer said. “There was always some room for misses. I would rather play the last four holes at Whistling Straits. They were a lot more difficult here.”

It’s not just the closing stretch on the Highlands course at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Rees Jones overhauled the course for this PGA, and it now measures 7,467 yards, the longest in major championship history for a par 70.

The good news is that it might not play that long. For one thing, PGA officials are contemplating moving the tees forward on two of the par 4s, one on each nine. Plus, with temperatures in the 90s and an immaculate course with fairways that could be running fast, players might get ample distance.

Dustin Johnson, one of the longest hitters in golf, hit driver on the 18th and had a 9-iron into the green.

“It doesn’t play that long,” McIlroy said of the entire course. “The ball is going so far because it’s so hot. I mean, you’re hitting 7-irons nearly 200 yards. I don’t think it plays the 7,400 yards that’s on the card.”

If there is one hole getting plenty of attention, it’s the 15th. A new tee makes the hole play as long as 260 yards, among the longest ever for a par 3 in a major. Oakmont had the par-3 eighth that could play - and did play in the final round of the 2007 U.S. Open - around 300 yards. But it didn’t have a pond hugging the right side and front corner of the green.

“Cunning par 3, isn’t it,” Clarke said of the 15th.

Like so many other players, he doesn’t understand why architects have failed to notice the best par 3s are the shortest, whether it’s the 106-yard seventh hole at Pebble Beach or the 155-yard 12th at Augusta National or the famed “Postage Stamp” hole at Royal Troon, which is 123 yards of sheer terror.

“At some stage, they’re going to realize length is not the way to toughen a golf course,” Clarke said.

So how does one play a 260-yard par 3.

“I don’t know,” Clarke said. “A 3-wood and hit it well or it will be a redo. Because balls don’t float.”

Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell summed up the length at Atlanta Athletic Club by suggesting it would be a good week for 3-woods and hybrids.

As for the longest par on the course? He shrugged.

“There’s no need for 260 yards on a par 3, but we’re becoming quite used to them. I couldn’t really tell you a par 3 I love that’s over 220 yards.”

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.

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Koepka: 'Surreal' Woods waited to say congrats at PGA

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:47 pm

Brooks Koepka was moved by the respect shown when Tiger Woods waited for a half hour at scoring last Sunday to congratulate Koepka for his PGA Championship victory at Bellerive.

While Koepka stands as an example of the new athletes Woods has attracted to the game, he laughs hearing people compare his body to an NFL player’s.

Those were among the observations Koepka shared Friday on "The Dan Patrick Show."

“That was surreal,” Koepka said of Woods waiting to congratulate him. “To hang around on 18, I wasn’t expecting it. It was probably the coolest gesture he could have done.”

Koepka credits Woods for drawing him to the game.

“He’s the reason I am playing,” Koepka said.

Koepka said playing with Woods in contention was a noisy experience that went beyond the roars Woods created making birdies in front of him.

“Even when he makes contact, you know what shot he’s hitting,” Koepka said. “That’s how loud people are.

“When they are putting [his score] up on the leaderboard, you hear it three holes away.”

About those NFL player comparisons, Koepka said his parents wouldn’t let him play football when he was growing up.

“I wasn’t big enough,” he said.

Koepka said he marveled meeting former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

“To be compared to them, it makes me laugh,” Koepka said. “I’m about the size of a cornerback, maybe a free safety.”

Koepka said he’s just over 6 feet tall and weighs 208 pounds.

“I saw Brian Urlacher give an interview,” Koepka said. “It was kind of funny. He said he was impressed at how big I wasn’t ... If I stand next to Justin Thomas, I’m going to look big. Golf doesn’t really have many big guys.”

Koepka told Patrick he is impressed at the athletes just now coming into golf.

“I see the young guys coming out of college,” Koepka said. “They are bombing it past me. They hit it so far, they are leaving me in the dust. It’s hard to think of, because I’ve been one of the longest hitters on tour.”

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McIlroy skipping first FedExCup playoff event

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:19 pm

Rory McIlroy committed to playing the FedExCup Playoffs opener at The Northern Trust, the PGA Tour announced after The Open Championship last month.

But McIlroy left the PGA Championship last week saying he might need to skip the opener to regroup, and that’s just what he is doing.

McIlroy wasn’t on The Northern Trust field list published Friday on the PGA Tour’s website.

“I need to assess where I'm at,” McIlroy said leaving Bellerive last week. “I think the best thing for me to do right now is just sort of take a couple days off, reflect on what I need to do going forward.

“The best thing might be to take that first FedExCup week off and work on my game and come back, hopefully, in a better place for Boston.”

McIlroy also skipped the FedExCup opener in 2015, choosing to make his start in the playoffs at Boston that year. It appears he will do the same this year.

“Historically, the first FedEx playoff event hasn't been my best event of the four,” McIlroy said. “I've played well in Boston. I've played pretty well in the other two.”

McIlroy left Bellerive saying he would do some work on his game and see if he felt ready for the playoffs opener as part of a run of big events leading into the Ryder Cup.

“There's a lot of room for improvement,” McIlroy said. “My swing really hasn't been where I want it to be. It was pretty good at the start of the year. I had a couple of months to work on it, but it's just sort of regressed as the season went on and you start to play tournaments, you start to fall back into some of the habits that you don't want to fall back into."

McIlroy has won once over the last two seasons – at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March – but he has given himself other chances this year with some frustrating finishes. Overall, he has five finishes of third or better in 2018. He got himself in the final pairing with Patrick Reed at the Masters but stumbled to a T-5 finish. He tied for second at The Open last month.

“Inconsistency with the swing has been the big area,” McIlroy said. “If you look at my statistics, especially with approach play on my irons, and even my driving, even though it's been OK, there's been a two-way miss, with sort of everything throughout the bag, and that obviously isn't a good thing. So that's something I need to work on.”

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Watch: Wagner saves season with walk-off eagle dunk

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 2:45 am

Johnson Wagner kept his FedExCup Playoff hopes alive on Friday at the Wyndham Championship ... and he did it in dramatic fashion.

Needing a birdie on his final hole of the day to make the cut on the number, Johnson used a 9-iron from 153 yards out to dunk his approach for eagle to get inside the cut line.

Johnson's eagle at the last gave him a 66 for the day and earned him two more rounds to try and get inside the FedExCup top 125 for next week's start of the postseason, The Northern Trust.